So, yeah, today I had to drive through security, show my old badge, deal with the awk!ward that is the post-employment trip to a former employer, all the while I just hoped and prayed no one had opened up the package before calling me to make sure it didn't contain work materials. (Luckily no one had, or basically I could never talk to any of these people again.)
That's right, people, I went through ALL OF THAT just to retrieve material for this here blog, including both A) one of the most-requested series and B) one of the books I was most eager to read as I was so decidedly certain it would anger me to a boiling rage forcing me to take action in the form of, oh, god, probably just hitting the caps lock key a lot.
That book in question is Briana's Gift (published 2006). Why, Ames, you ask, why were you so predisposed to hypothetical anger? Well, gee, friends, let me tell you!:
Thirteen-year-old Sissy's mother always said that Sissy's sixteen-year-old sister marched to the beat of a different drummer. But it isn't until Briana runs away with an older boy that Sissy begins to understand what her mother meant. When Briana returns home alone and pregnant, Sissy and her mother try to help Briana come to terms with her options.OH MY GOD YOU GUYS THERE IS TEEN PREGNANCY AND A CRITICAL ILLNESS OMGOMGOMG AMAZING.
As if helping Briana make choices weren't complicated enough, things suddenly change again. After Briana becomes critically ill, Sissy's mother sees only one next step, but Sissy feels she must try to persuade her mother to make a different decision. Sissy needs to grow up fast and do what she can to maintain Briana's legacy, and at the holiday season it seems more important than ever. Can Sissy make her mother understand that there is only one way to accept Briana's gift?
Wow, total sidenote, you guys, before delving into what an anti-choice and anti-sex nightmare I was convinced this book was after reading only these two paragraphs. I went to Amazon to grab that synopsis - something I always hurry through, lest I notice something like the reviewer who proclaimed Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep as "THE BEST BOOK EVER!" - I saw this blurb:
About the Author Lurlene McDaniel is the #1 author of inspirational fiction for young adults. The author lives in Chattanooga, TN.Wha-aaat? The NUMBER ONE AUTHOR of INSPIRATIONAL FICTION? I mean, let's not profess I'm some expert on the "inspirational" genre, even if I've sat through more than my fair share of faith-based marketing meetings, but just because Lurlene always includes something like "it's okay I'm dying because I get to go meet god and my dead relatives" and a quote from the Bible, does that actually qualify her books as inspirational? I would hope there's more to that label than just, you know, dying a beautiful virgin accepting of her fate (and her virginity).
Also, weirdly enough, the synopsis on Amazon has a different second paragraph, and it's INACCURATE:
It was already complicated to think about Briana's choices and then things change suddenly again. When Briana is in a serious accident, Casey's mother sees things one way. Although Casey understands her mother's reaction, she feels she must try to convince her mother to make a different decision. Casey needs to grow up fast and do what she can to maintain Briana's legacy. Will she be able to make her mother understand that there is only one way to accept Briana's gift?Uhhh, Briana isn't IN a serious accident. THE HELL? Was that just a lucky guess from the dude in charge of synopses? He probably spins a wheel when writing these. Teenager, working mother, car accident, guess that's it!
More importantly, though: WHO THE HELL IS CASEY???? Okay, basically this is boggling my little mind. This is apparently off the hardcover edition, so if I ever see it in person, I'm gonna see why the hell the back cover professes that the protag is named Casey. Is her name Casey throughout the whole book? Why did it change? This is CRAZY.
Oh, and here's the beautiful cover:
Wow, this is super ugly! There's an ugly cardigan sweater, an ugly gift I already feel is WAY TOO LITERAL, and the title spelled out via a cutesy baby bracelet. TOO MANY COMPONENTS. Also I know I haven't gotten into it yet, but what is with that Lurlene logo? She's had the cursive name logo hovering over her works for years and years and years now. It must feel good for your name to be a branded logo. I just hope if it ever happens for me that I get a better font.
So right away we meet Sissy, who's fourteen. (I have ALWAYS hated the name Sissy. I know it's a nickname, but, ugh. Sorry to any Sissys out there who may be reading this. It's not you; it's just your name. Kisses!) Her sixteen-year-old sister Briana, like the synopsis tells us, marches to the beat of her own drummer. I don't know if that really means what Lurlene thinks it means. I mean, Briana is just kind of a wild child, smoking and sexing and all of that, it's not like she wears earrings made out of junk food or whatever. Briana's blowing this popsicle stand!
Okay, I don't want to concern you guys for my sanity, which is a subject I now worry about with the unemployment and the hours spent watching TV on DVD with nary a soul in sight who isn't feline or canine, but either Lurlene got a new and improved editor or that whole "writing is a craft that will improve if you keep doing it" thing is true. The dialogue still grates a bit, but some of this prose is sort of good. Okay, decent? Good. It's not choppy, I'm not cringing, and there are bits of description where I'm actually all "ooh, I like what she did there". I KNOW I KNOW I'M SORRY. You want a little? I'll give you a little:
"Where are you going?" I ask. I'm sprawled on the softa watching a cartoon and eating Cheetos. I like the old cartoons; plus, it's a good way to spend a Saturday until Mom makes me do my chores, which wasn't going to happen until she came home from the store. My fingers are covered with orange Cheetos dust and I lick them. [GodDAMN now I want some Cheetos. If my roommate Dawn Rochelle is reading this, pick some up for me on your way home from work.]I'm sorry, you guys, I can't hate on this. It flows so nicely, and for once it seems like a fourteen-year-old is actually narrating, not your kooky old aunt who's convinced she's down with whatever the kids are.
Bree scowls. "That's disgusting." She looks out the high glass window of the door. "I'm leaving."
. . .
Bree laughs and kisses [her boyfriend]. She says to me, "Go inside, Sissy."
I'm still wearing my sleep T-shirt and my legs and feet are bare. The cold has sliced right through me and frozen me to the porch.
Bree shoots Jerry an apologetic look, runs back and puts her arms around me. "It'll be all right, Sissy. I know what I'm doing."
I feel all hollow, scared too. I don't want my sister to leave.
"I'll send you postcards."
I stand still, my arms glued to my sides, fighting hard not to cry. I'm careful not to touch her with my disgusting orange fingers.
Since Sissy and Briana's dad died long ago in a factory accident, now Sissy and her mom are left alone. Sissy reports that her mom has "this bad kind of arthritis" which, dude, how grateful are you for that description? Has there ever been a girl in the Lurleneverse before, a protagonist, at that, who has a relative with a medical condition and doesn't know every friggin' detail about it? Nope, not that I'm aware of! I swear, had Lurlene written this one ten years earlier there would be three pages devoted to the discovery of the condition, the doctor visits and diagnosis, the treatment, and the prognosis. NOPE JUST ONE SENTENCE OMG LURLENE WHAT IS HAPPENING TO YOU IT'S LIKE I DON'T KNOW YOU ANYMORE.
Sissy's mom isn't really that freaked about all of this. She's all, shrug, whatever, she'll come back. Sissy shouts:
"Call the sheriff, Mom. You can stop them."Wait, call the... sheriff? What the hell? What fourteen year old busts out with that? Very strange. You're on notice, Lurlene. Luckily Sissy's mom is all, yeah, whatever, as soon as he leaves her, she'll be back. Right now I can't help but love the hell out of Sissy's mom! Sissy's all cute and fourteen about it, saying, "But if they're married..." and her mom's all YEAH THAT'LL MAKE IT LAST.
OH MY GOD REALISTIC UNDERSTANDING OF TEEN MARRIAGE WHO AM I READING AGAIN WHAAAAT!
Ha ha, I don't want to jump for joy TOO much. Once Sissy launches into more expositiony stuff about Bree, she mentions Bree lovvvved teen magazines:
She bought teen magazines about cool kids in cool places and read them for hours.WHAT IS IT WITH LURLENE AND TEEN MAGAZINES. You people, I have to make a new category, don't I? GodDAMN Lurlene.
Sissy has two best friends, a boy named Stuart Ableman (he's JEWISH!) and Melody Wallace. They seem like normal kids, though Melody's a little shallow and dumb for my taste. I'm sure she's super into teen magazines too. Whatever, I'm not some girl named Sissy. She can pick her own friends.
So guess who's back? That's right, it's Bree! Sissy's all HOLY CRAP but of course their mom barely bats an eyelash. This stuff all seems so friggin' real, you guys, which wigs me out. WHO ACTUALLY WROTE THIS BOOK?
Sissy wants to know why Bree's back, if she's so unhappy there. Uhh, Sissy, have you looked at the housing costs for southern California? Actually, that's not why Bree's back:
Moisture fills her eyes. "I'm pregnant, Sissy. I'm a cliché - barefoot and pregnant, with no place else to go."Ruh-roh!
Also, the amazing thing is that the chapter ends RIGHT THERE and the next begins with the very next line of dialogue. How Dan fucking Brown of you, Lurlene.
"Pregnant! But you're not married."I start getting angry at this line BUT--
As soon as the words are out of my mouth, I bite my tongue. What a stupid thing to say! I feel my face go flaming red. "Sorry," I say. "I must have had a brain disconnect."Dude, what an... acceptable reaction. Who are you, ghost writer, and what did you do with my Lurlene?
No one wants to say the a-word, of course:
I've had sex education in school so I know what her options are. I swallow hard. "You're not going to... I mean, you're not thinking about--"The word you're look for is ABORTION, Sissy. Ha! It's now a name and an insult.
So Sissy goes to hang out with Stu and Melody at the pool, where she runs into some nosy-ass girl from school:
"Do [Stu] and Melody have a thing?"Does anyone actually say "BF" for boyfriend? I thought BF was totes "best friend", as in BFF, yeah? Or am I just getting old?
"A thing?" The question catches me totally off guard.
"You know, are they together? Is he her BF?"
Anyways, Sissy's not thrilled about these rumors, not liking the gossip OR the possibility. OH MY GOD A NORMAL REACTION TO YOUR BEST FRIENDS POSSIBLY DATING EACH OTHER. You guys, I also just realized the reason this narrative works so much better is it's in first-person, which lends itself really well to the story. Has Lurlene ever written another book in first-person POV? So now we've got better writing than ever and a totally different POV. I'd actually cry out "GHOSTWRITER!" except I feel like if Lurlene was trying to fake us out with some poor sap having to pretend to be her, this book would actually be rife with Lurlene standards. Right? Like the V.C. Andrews oeuvre went from bad to parody under the heavy hand of the ghostwriter.
Man, have I overthought this one.
So Sissy and Bree's mom is totes unhappy about the baby sitch, and is grilling Bree on how she's going to handle this. I think she could be a BIT more supportive, honestly; then again, I didn't raise some wild child who's never handled responsibility well and now thinks she can raise a kid. It's a tricky subject, I'll say that much. No, Bree hasn't proven herself in the past, but she wants to be a mom to this kid; shouldn't she be supported, at least emotionally?
I hate the mom even more when she takes Sissy and Bree to Chattanooga for Bree's first obstetrician appointment:
Mom insists we all go to the exam room, where we meet a woman obstetrician [you know what I call women obstetricians? OBSTETRICIANS!] named Dr. Wehrenberg.OMG are there any midwesterners reading this? Do you guys remember the old Wehrenberg Theaters theme song? It is so awesomely bad. I wanted you guys to hear (or rehear) it so badly I went to YouTube and searched for it. Please ignore the video content; I've no frigging clue why it features clips from Fred Claus and the Spiderwick Chronicles:
Oh, man, it's so earwormy. Also now I'm homesick. FOR THE PAST.
She gives me a questioning look and Mom says, "I want Sissy to hear what you have to say."OH MAN I AM SO ANGRY AT YOU, MOM. Putting Bree in this position is so fucking unfair. She's scared enough; let's not make her go through her first appointment with her little sister in the room who is being shown her as an example as what NOT to be. GodDAMN this is wrong. You know, if she wants to talk to Sissy AT SOME OTHER TIME AT SOME OTHER PLACE WITHOUT BREE IN THE ROOM about how obviously difficult this is for Bree and how to prevent this there are all sorts of birth control and also the option of abstinence, FINE, but this is so gross and unfair, and, Bree, I'm so sorry your mom's such a wench.
Bree gets a job at Wal*Mart so she can earn a living, which I guess is as good an option as any in small-town America when you don't even have your high school diploma. At least she's being responsible!! This news spreads fast because small towns are lame and have nothing better to talk about, so Stu mentions to Sissy maybe he'll get a job there over the Christmas holiday, since he's Jewish and he doesn't really, ya know, give a shit. I LOVE THAT LURLENE WROTE A LOVABLE JEWISH CHARACTER! I was afraid he'd either be rife with stereotypes or, ya know, never shut up about the Holocaust, but Lurlene just made him a normal kid. THIS BOOK IS BLOWING MY MIND. Sissy's still jealous and weird every time Stu mentions Melody, which, YAAAAY REALISM. Also, hello, welcome to me as a kid.
Bree luckily gets to go to her next appointment alone, and she comes home thrilled to announce the baby's a girl. How does Mommy McMeanie react?:
"How are you going to take care of her, Briana?"OH MY GOD JUST SAY ONE NICE THING GEEZ. Of course she calls an adoption agency and sends an agent over to chat with Bree. I am a really big supporter of women getting to have children only WHEN they want, so this makes me angry, because Bree really has come to want this baby, and her mom isn't being cool. I'm not saying Bree's in an ideal position, but, please, there are many worse things than a seventeen-year-old having a baby she really wants.
So, of course, this is the Lurleneverse, albeit a bizarro one, so Bree collapses at work! And, sadly, it isn't just an allergic reaction to working in the most heinous of all the chain stores, she had a brain aneurysm. Lurlene is sooo happy here to get to delve into her comfort zone, the medical fetishism we've all grown to expect. Blah blah, brain dead, blah blah, machines keeping her alive, blah blah blah.
We all know where this is going, yeah? The baby's too young to deliver, so Mommy McMeanie
has to decide whether or not to keep Bree alive long enough for the baby to be born healthy. Oh, man, what a sticky ethical situation. Since the child was really wanted by Bree, I'm okay with Mommy McMeanie deciding to keep Bree on the machines, but of course I'm a little wigged out with women being used only as baby incubators. Like I said, though, this is a situation where, to me, it seems okay. Also, considering Mommy McMeanie's previous feelings on the baby, I think that showed a lot of courage for her.
Mommy McMeanie tells Sissy she can be the one to name the baby, so while out Christmas shopping with the constant-foot-in-her-mouth Melody, Sissy buys a baby name book. Aw, I like this plotline. I mean, not Melody, but didn't many of us have a super-annoying friend at that age who, years later, we recognize as total mess? Naming the baby, though, that's really nice. Of course, I'm a little nervous Mommy McMeanie is just doing this to placate Sissy for now, and the name will be little more than how it goes on the birth certificate before she hands the kid off to some agency-approved set of adoptive parents. Hey, I'm not saying this is particularly a bad option; Sissy's just a kid, and Mommy has rheumatoid arthritis, so the baby is going to make life VERY tough on them. I just don't want to see Sissy's heart broken even more than it already is, with Bree brain dead.
Bree develops an infection, so the baby has to be delivered earlier than optimal. And Bree dies. Man, this is actually sad, you guys! The baby's fighting for her life, and they have a funeral for Bree. After the funeral, Sissy tags along with Stu to a school function, ready for any normalcy to take her mind off of the hell that is her life.
Of course she totes jumps Stu, and he's all THE FUCK? Oh, god, it's so embarrassing and sad; I hoped at least she'd get some smooching to make up for the crapload life has dumped on her, but instead Stu is just nice enough to pretend it never happened. Fine, yeah, this is waaaaay more likely how it actually would go, but I was for once hoping for a nice little only-in-books moment.
Sissy's spending all her spare time at the hospital with the baby, who's luckily, despite her birth into the Lurleneverse, getting healthier and stronger all the time. GO BABY! One day Sissy arrives to find that schemin' adoption agent there. OH NOES YOU GUYS! Actually, why am I rooting for Sissy and her mom to take home this baby? I have totally fallen prey to the mindset of the Lurleneverse! Send help before it's too late!
Because that's not shitty enough, Mel and Stu take her aside to tell her they've actually been going out since the summer. OH MY GOD NOT COOL YOU GUYS. Poor, poor Sissy. If you were real I would totally take you out for some totally unhealthy food, and commiserate because I have soooo been there. Being this age really sucks.
Mommy McMeanie's heart grows three sizes, and the baby comes home for Christmas! Yay!! Mel and Stu chip in to send over a Christmas tree, which helps Sissy get through her anger, sadness, and heartbreak (I mean, as far as they're concerned), and Sissy decides on the name Briana Noel, to be called Noel, for the baby. IT'S KIND OF LOVELY. I seriously can't believe I sort of enjoyed this book.
Just remember, guys, the danger grows: it turns out it isn't just virgins who have to fear death in the Lurleneverse. Beware, my friends, beware!